Racin’, Rubbin’ and Writin’

An appreciation of employee communication

“Rubbin’, son, is racin’.” In this line from Days of Thunder, the seasoned NASCAR crew chief is enlightening his rookie racer about the fuzzy line between illegal and legal contact.

Pushing the limits

There are many fields where the communicator’s purpose is to find an advantage, to push the boundaries, or even stretch the truth into gray areas. For example: 

  • Fiction is a product of the imagination.
  • Political communication is at best aspirational, and at worst deceptive
  • Legal arguments explore the boundaries of what’s acceptable
  • News media elevate the sensational
  • Advertising is crafted to attract and tempt consumers 

Though their work often supports aspects of certain gray areas, working within and even establishing boundaries is the work of another type of communicator. This type of communicator is specialized, careful and accurate. For example: 

  • Technical writing requires precision and clarity.
  • Regulatory communication clearly lays out rules and requirements. 
  • Academic writing is for like-minded peers and is often esoteric.

Employee communication is a hybrid discipline and a balancing act. It requires accuracy and precision to make it compliant to organizational and legal regulations. Yet it also must be accessible and compelling to the employee audiences.  

Organizational and legal guardrails are not to be rubbed against. They set the course, so that we can all race, cleanly and without any unwanted drama or pain. Employee communication isn’t about exploiting the gray areas. It’s about clearly defining legal, organizational and relational obligations. Employee communicators know where the guardrails are and make certain that the organization, the processes, and the employees all stay within them. 

Keeping it between the lines 

More Formula 1 than NASCAR, employee communication requires precision and careful execution. Mistakes can be costly. Careless communication can side line important initiatives and diminish the return on expensive investments.

Experience is the key quality of a successful and valuable internal communicator. There are no shortcuts to learning how to balance between compliance obligations and creative expression. It takes time, study, and years of doing the job to be good at it.

Once the parameters of the work are clearly understood, the greatest challenge for employee communicators is creativity—adding interest and making content compelling. 

It’s easy for employees, who are familiar with certain processes and information, to stop paying attention. For example, year-to-year the numbers and other facts might change, but the basic structure of an employee’s benefits package is often the same. That doesn’t make the details less important or less worthy of careful consideration and attention.

Making the familiar feel fresh requires knowing how to move the pieces around in new and inventive ways and finding graphicly evocative ways to appeal to different employee audiences. While the guardrails should keep us from using empty and flashy approaches, they shouldn’t stop us from making creative, elegant and inviting content.

The challenges we face during client engagements can’t be met by everyone. Smith has assembled a highly experienced and creative set of consultants to execute a precise and demanding job. And when we do that job well, we make a difference for employees, their families, and the organizations where they work. 

Employee communication, it’s what we do.

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